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IPL 2023: Is Nitish Rana the Right Man to Lead Kolkata Knight Riders?

Written By: Sahil Malhotra


Last Updated: April 01, 2023, 08:30 IST

New Delhi, India

KKR skipper Nitish Rana and coach Chandrakant Pandit during a pre-season press conference (KKR Twitter)

KKR skipper Nitish Rana and coach Chandrakant Pandit during a pre-season press conference (KKR Twitter)

Nitish Rana was appointed KKR captain after regular skipper Shreyas Iyer became unavailable due to injury. Is the Delhi left-hander right man to lead a franchise in the biggest T20 league in the world?

Nitish Rana is no stranger to the Indian Premier League having played in the tournament since the 2016 edition for high-profile teams like the Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. Captaincy, however, still remains unexplored territory for the left-hander who has only led Delhi 23 times in domestic competitions and only 12 times in T20s.

Even after making his debut for DDCA back in the 2013 season, Rana had to wait a long time before the captain’s armband came his way. And when it did, it didn’t stay around for long. The stylish southpaw attracted unwanted attention during his captaincy stints for Delhi and unfavourable results and questionable tactics put an early end to his journey as captain.

In the previous season, Rana was appointed the white-ball skipper for the season but Delhi’s early exits in both Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy forced the selectors, led by Gagan Khoda, to remove Nitish as captain and give the command to young Yash Dhull.

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The previous season not only saw Rana getting axed as captain but also saw him lose his spot in the Ranji Trophy side after just three fixtures and then was recalled for the big game against Mumbai, which Delhi won in convincing fashion. The runs, however, didn’t come off his willow and before the away fixture against Hyderabad, the last game of the season, Rana made himself unavailable and didn’t travel with the team.

KKR’s punt or strategic move?

KKR management has certainly raised plenty of eyebrows with Rana’s appointment as skipper in absence of Shreyas Iyer. What tempted the franchise to go for Rana over the likes of Shardul Thakur, Sunil Narine or even Venkatesh Iyer – someone who has worked closely with Chandrakant Pandit for Madhya Pradesh in the domestic circuit and has also played for India?

With Shardul, it could well be the case of not overburdening the all-rounder in what will be his first season with the franchise and Iyer is coming off a long injury lay-off due to a freak ankle injury. The other option was the experienced Sunil Narine but did an Indian head coach go against Narine in this case?

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The Chandrakant Pandit way

Chandrakant Pandit is the man with the midas touch in the domestic circuit. Whatever he has touched, has turned into gold and there is more method than madness in his ways. Pandit’s appointment as KKR head coach ahead of the IPL mini-auction was another big gamble KKR took to fill in the big shoes left behind by former coach Brendon McCullum who took up a full-time responsibility with the England cricket team.

The players who have worked with and under Pandit term him as a hard taskmaster who goes about his job with a very old-school approach. A recent conversation with a former India cricketer revealed how Pandit had once dropped an India regular from the West Zone squad because the player refused to change to regular team training gear.

“Chandu is a hard task master. I remember how he didn’t play an India regular in the West Zone side because the player refused to wear proper training gear during warm-ups. This is how we works. He is very disciplined and it will be interesting to see how he goes about with international stars in the IPL,” recalled the ex-cricketer.

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The Pandit-Rana combination

For Pandit, it would be much easier to interact/strategise say with a Rana than a Narine or any other overseas player on the roster. Rana is a sure starter for all games, has played close to 100 games in the league and has been in the KKR set-up for a long time to understand how it functions and what it demands.

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The classy batter has produced flashes of brilliance ever since he has been playing the IPL but has been far from consistent. Every season is a season of two contrasting halves for Rana and the 29-year-old is yet to breach the 400-run mark in the last six editions. His best effort came in 2021 when he amassed 383 runs in 17 fixtures for the side.

It remains to be seen how the Rana-Pandit partnership unfolds in the middle but the veteran coach was effusive in praise for the new captain during the team’s pre-tournament press briefing.

“Nitish is capable. He has been with KKR for a long time and also has a strong domestic record. Like they say, ‘all boxes to be ticked’ and it has come down to that,” said Pandit.

At the end of the current season, especially if Shreyas Iyer continues to be unavailable, Rana will not remain a stranger to captaincy and this could well be a golden opportunity for the batter, who bowls handy off-spin, to make the right noise and return on that ladder to the Indian cricket team.

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first published:April 01, 2023, 08:30 IST
last updated:April 01, 2023, 08:30 IST